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Frederick Douglass in Whitney’s Point, 1880

“Bear with me kindly, for my voice is broken, and my throat is ragged and sore.” These were the words of the famous orator, Frederick Douglass, on October 22, 1880 in Whitney’s Point (now known as Whitney Point) as published a few days later in the weekly Broome Republican. In spite of a sore throat, he spoke to hundreds of people in “front of the academy” for two hours on an almost sacred topic to him — to rally voters to the Republican Party in this Presidential election year. Douglass had often stated, “The Republican Party is the ship, all else is the sea.” In the Point and elsewhere, he addressed crowds of all races about the seaworthiness of this “ship.”

For the second year in a row, the Republican State Committee selected him to campaign around the State on behalf of its candidates. After all, not only was he skilled speaker but also a devoted Republican. In fact, in 1879 in Binghamton, he addressed a crowded Ouaquaga Hall on behalf of the Party, and its gubernatorial candidate, Alonzo Cornell.

The Binghamton Daily Republican offers the most thorough coverage of this event in its October 23 issue. Most of Douglass’ speech in the Point extolled the virtues of Republicans. After all, he declared, “thanks for the magnanimity, humanity, and greatness of the Republican Party, I am an American citizen.” A “grand procession” led by people carrying flags and banners, and “a large cavalry company,” took Douglass to the stage where “a vast audience” awaited him. Not surprisingly, local Democrats were anxious. Earlier on the 22nd , the Binghamton Daily Democrat demeaned Douglass, stating that he only supported Garfield in order “to hold onto a good thing four years longer” in regard to Douglass’ position as U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia. The newspaper concluded by suggesting that “Fred., although not a full-blooded white man, has more brains than all the [unreadable] law combined in the county.” But Douglass was at least used to such derision, and worse.

His opening remarks were patriotic, and not partisan– Frederick Douglass profusely praised America. The Daily Republican recorded Douglass’s words, some of which were,
“Ours is a great land. We see its greatness manifested in its commerce….in agriculture, invention, and the cultivation of the high arts. But it is greater in nothing than in the recognition which it bestows upon the rights of its people. We are here to exercise this afternoon one of its rights—the unchecked freedom of speech.” 

Later, he reasoned why voters must consider Republican office seekers. “Parties make candidates….Whatever may be said in behalf of a candidate it is better to know and understand the party that supports him. Parties are the assimilation of moral conditions….and principles of a people. ” Douglass must have praised to his Party’s nominee for President, James Garfield — as he would at a rally in New York City on October 25—but the Daily Republican’s coverage does not say so. (The local Democratic newspapers do not offer follow-up coverage on this rally).

Douglass did not stay in Broome County for long. His schedule required a political stump speech the next day in Woodhull in Steuben County. In Whitney’s Point, though, he illustrated why he was sometimes called “Old Man Eloquent,” especially for his devoted support of the Republican Party.

This article was originally published on 2/19/17 on NewYorkHistoryReview.com.

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